Anyone who's spent time living near or attending the University of Denver has probably downed drinks at Spanky's Roadhouse. Anyone who studied social work there (like me) has probably been to Spanky's Roadhouse more than once, because the bar is situated less than a block from the social work building on campus — and sometimes social workers can use a drink or two.
It had been quite a while since I'd visited this old haunt, and when a friend and I went in for a little Spanky's nostalgia, we were impressed with some recent upgrades. The roadhouse has always had an alluring covered patio facing Evans Avenue, but nowadays the indoor section of the place is looking spiffy, with renovated midcentury-modern-style booths and tables, and mini garage windows opening up next to each booth. The entrance hall is lined with framed historical pictures of the University of Denver campus, sports teams and students.
When we came in on a Sunday afternoon, there was a small dinner crowd, but things were pretty quiet. The Spanky's clientele varies at any given time from the core audience of college kids to local folks in hospitality and families with children coming over from the residential streets surrounding DU.
We sat at one of the spacious booths and decided to buck the staid atmosphere by ordering a round of "Boozy Punch Buckets" and pretending we were in college again. The drink buckets are actually giant plastic cups with handles and Spanky's logos; you get your choice of mixes, such as the Mermaid Punch or the Rosé Brunch Punch, both of which involve flavored vodka and something sweet. Each bucket holds at least twice the amount of a standard mixed drink and is reminiscent of something you'd get on spring break or in Las Vegas.
The food menu has also been upgraded, courtesy of chef Justin Adrian. I tried out one of the tasty and more upscale-sounding new menu offerings: the Brussels sprouts with sweet and spicy sesame sauce and goat cheese. They were delicious and flavorful, and definitely felt more grown-up than anything I had eaten here years ago.
But chili cheese fries, fried pickles, wings, fish tacos and a long list of burgers are all there for you if you just want typical bar fare, along with creative milkshakes with mix-ins like Funfetti cake mix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Spanky's served shakes back in my college days, but the colors and flavors have definitely gotten more varied — and you can also make them boozy if you're so inclined.
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General manager Katie Kingsman is responsible for many of Spanky's upgrades, according to our server that night. The place has been a neighborhood fixture since long before I was a DU student, and the Shipp brothers — Dan, John and Mike — bought it in 1991, the first of their ventures in the Roadhouse Hospitality Group, which has grown to include eateries all over the state, among them Reiver's Bar & Grill in Wash Park, Tstreet Roadhouse in Lakewood, and various properties in Colorado ski resort areas. But Spanky's remains the flagship, and although it's nicer than it used to be, it still has that homey, casual college bar quality.
Happy hour, something I remember well, is still a steal. It runs from 3 to 6 p.m. every day; discounts include pitchers of beer (both Bud Light and craft brews), $2.99 well drinks, $3.99 wines and $5.99 for a Coors Banquet can and a shot. Food specials during happy hour include a $4.99 quarter-pound burger, a bargain even a decade ago. Regulars and aspiring regulars can get in on the Spanky's mug club, where you pay $100 for a whole year of free drinks. Once per visit, the crew will fill your mug for free with a choice of a Coors, a well drink or a house wine — or, if you come during brunch, a Bloody Mary or mimosa. Not a bad idea for the many folks who find themselves at Spanky's frequently, whether for a bite to eat, a milkshake or a boozy bucket.
Spanky's Roadhouse is located at 1800 East Evans Avenue in Denver and is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 303-733-6886 or visit the bar's website.